Last season in the playoffs, both Dwyane Wade and LeBron James were eliminated from the playoffs by the Boston Celtics.
That was last year though, and now they are on the same team. This year they are on the same team and going into their series with a lot of momentum, homecourt advantage and heaps of expectations.
The Celtics, on the other hand, seemed to be lost at times to end the season. They seemed sluggish and disinterested on defense. They were unable to protect the rim or rebound, and they seemed to be sulking at the loss of Kendrick Perkins.
Most people have written them off, which is right where they want to be, overlooked.
But the pressure is all squarely on Wade, James and the rest of the Miami Heat. They spent the summer celebrating and now they will be tested like they never have been before. These are the keys to the Heat winning this series.
1. Can Wade and James stay home on defense?
Neither Wade nor James are particularly good defenders. They don't have good footwork, they aren't fundamentally sound, and they tend to stray from their assignments to play the passing lanes, or help on guys driving to the basket.
Against Philadelphia they had great success doing that because no one on the 76ers is really a threat to go off on any given night. The 76ers lack a star, so they rely on vast amounts of depth, and when one guy has the ball going to the basket he rarely looks to pass.
On the occasions he does, the 76ers found themselves with wide open shots, they just were unable to knock them down consistently.
The Celtics make their living on plays like that. They led the NBA in field goal percentage this season because all they do is look for the open guy, and their shooters are some of the best in the league.
Ray Allen shot 65 percent from three-point land against the Knicks and Paul Pierce shot 50 percent, and while the Knicks are a poor defensive team, they run similar defensive sets to the Heat, and as indicated before, Wade and James love to rotate to weak side help.
If they do that, Pierce and Allen will capitalize where the 76er shooters failed to. If Ray Allen shoots 65 percent from three-point land and Paul Pierce shoots 50 percent against the Heat, the Celtics will win the series.
2. Don't believe that Kendrick Perkins being gone means the Celtics can't play defense.
Oh, the Celtics are definitely a different team since the trade. They don't have the same interior toughness that defined them, they are weak and susceptible to good rebounders, and now a great penetrating guard can have success against them.
But they still play tremendous strong side defense.
They like to load up the strong side and cut off the weak side to cut down on open shots from the perimeter. Ball rotation is usually too slow to take advantage, which is why LeBron loves to try those cross court passes against them.
You can be sure, though, that if Mario Chalmers got a wide open shot against the Celtics, the very next play he would not be open, unlike the 76ers who were so scared of Wade and James that they consistently doubled off on them.
The Celtics won't leave those shooters open or give them clean shots. The pressure is going to be on LeBron to let Wade have more of the ball because LeBron has always struggled against Pierce, and Ray Allen is not a defender that can give Wade too many problems.
3. Chris Bosh has to play physical.
Yeah, I know, that's like asking Ghandi to hit someone or Mother Theresa to say something bad about her fellow man.
Bosh is notorious for shying away from contact. Generally, the more contact he takes the further from the basket he gets. Now, he is a good outside shooter, but the further from the basket you shoot, the lower percentage the shot you are taking.
Also, when you take jumpshots and you are the team's best rebounder, you are easier to box out for the rebound.
Bosh is going to get hit in this series—a lot.
Jermaine O'Neal and Kevin Garnett have made their careers cheap-shotting guys in the post and getting into their opponents heads with trash talk. If Shaq plays, he too will beat up Bosh.
Bosh needs to play strong. Fading further and further from the basket plays right into the Celtics hands, especially since Perkins is gone. The easier he is to take out of the series, the harder iwill be for the Heat to win.
They need Bosh to consistently produce and be reliable when he gets the ball in the post, or they won't win the series. The contributions they got from the non-Big 3 members during the 76ers series will be reduced in this series, and it's up to the Big 3 to carry the Heat in this series.
4. Don't give Rajon Rondo room to shoot.
The Knicks did and it cost them. Not because he hit those shots consistently, though he was decent, but because he used that space to drive and set up teammates.
If you give him too much space, he will get to the basket. That will cause your help defenders to leave Pierce and Allen. Rondo will find them.
Rondo is the key to this series for the Celtics. The Heat's inability to stop penetrating point guards has been well documented. Even in the first round Jrue Holliday and Louis Williams had their way with Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers.
While Chalmers is a better defender than Bibby, neither has the lateral quickness to stay with Rondo if they are backing off of him and he decides to get to the basket.
Some point guards penetrate to score, and while Rondo can and will score from the post, he penetrates specifically to set up Pierce and Allen with wide open three-pointers.
Prediction: Celtics in 6.
I just don't think the Heat can do it. The Celtics showed in the regular season that they know how to exploit the Heat's weaknesses and do just enough to win games.
Kendrick Perkins only played in one game against the Heat this season so I don't believe that will be a factor.
The Celtics have shown they don't need homecourt advantage in a series to win it, and they know that they can beat this team. The Heat don't know it, and they also don't realize that the way they played in the regular season won't work in the playoffs. If you watched the first round series, yes they won in five, but the same things they did wrong in the regular season they did wrong against Philly, they just got lucky the 76ers couldn't take advantage.
Furthermore, the Heat have repeatedly shown that when the pressure is squarely on them, they are unable to handle it. Neither Bosh nor James have been "winners" in their careers, in fact, James's teams always underachieved in the postseason, and that IS squarely on him as "the guy".
Only Wade has shown that he can put a team on his back and carry it to the promised land, and I question whether his body can handle that anymore, as he has looked old and beat down at times this season.
I think it will be an entertaining series, but the Heat lack the pieces to exploit the Celtics true weakness now, and the Celtics are too experienced and come into this series having gotten more rest.
The Heat have homecourt, which puts the pressure squarely on Miami to start the series. If the Heat win the first two, it's OK because that's what they're supposed to do, but if the Celtics steal one in Miami, it gets that much tougher on the Heat.
It's just all falling into place for Boston.
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